Get Your Glad Rags & ‘Party Like It’s 1925’
with Roberta Donnay & the Prohibition Mob Band!!

By Mariah Fleming

Roberta Donnay and the Prohibition Mob Band

Once in awhile, a talent comes along that’s an undeniable force of nature. Roberta Donnay, the driving wheel behind Roberta Donnay and the Prohibition Mob Band, fits that description. She’s currently on the road for the Southwest leg of her national tour in support of her newest CD, “A Little Sugar,” her uniquely hip tribute to Prohibition Era women singers and songwriters. Dubbed ‘a rebel jazzer’ and given superlative marks by music critics, Donnay was recently snapped up by Motema, the prestigious jazz and blues label based out of Harlem in New York.

“A Little Sugar” is her debut CD for Motema. “A Little Sugar” is Donnay’s sixth CD, the follow up to her critically acclaimed “What’s Your Story” produced by the legendary Orin Keepnews. Jazz Weekly Music critic George Harris put it this way: “Well, you can’t say that producer Orrin Keepnews is resting on his laurels. Though he’s personally responsible for jump-starting the careers of guys like Monk, Adderley and Montgomery, he’s still on the hunt for talent. He’s found it in this jewel-toned vocalist, Roberta Donnay.Roberta Donnay and the Prohibition Mob Band perform Friday November 15th in Cottonwood at 7PM at the Performing Arts Center and in a special 6PM early show in Phoenix at The Rhythm Room on Friday November 16th.

Seeing Roberta Donnay and the Prohibition Mob Band is a delectable musical treat, and a real kick. If you miss this, chances are good that next time she comes to town you won’t be able to get your hands on tickets. Her music has been wowing listeners and critics for years. The band’s tag line, “Party Like It’s 1925” brings the spirit of the Prohibition era to life. Dressed in period garb, visually and musically the band conjures up flappers, swinging and swaying on the dance floor, and gangsters gamely holding on to their molls and flasks of bathtub gin.

In addition to her own numerous projects, Donnay has been touring with Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks for nearly a decade. Donnay works alongside Hicks in her role as one of the famed “Lickettes.” Sporting a shock of long, copper colored hair, a twinkle in her eyes and a sparkle in her voice, Donnay ads an unmistakably magic vibe to Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks. When I asked Dan Hicks about Donnay’s newest project he sounded downright proud. Hicks talked about being really impressed with what Donnay is doing and how she is doing it. Among other things, he said: “I really like what she’s doing. It’s tasty!

Donnay is exuberant about Hicks. “Working with Dan Hicks is kind of like being in a comedy with really great musicians and great music all around!” she said. “It reminds me of old movies and vaudeville and Jackie Gleason and Jack Benny, all the great comedians who were around when I was just a seedling. I see in them something that’s really fundamentally great.” Asked about Dan Hicks music, Donnay exclaimed: “Dan’s songs are genius! They’re pure and simple and honest. Dan has a way of telling a story that no one else has. The way Dan writes, it’s both painful and incredibly funny at the same time. It’s like a beautiful poem in the middle of the thunderstorm. You can’t really hear it while the storm is raging, but afterwards, you can feel it inside.

Her description of Dan Hick’s music gives us a glimpse into her zeal for music and her spirited take on life as a singer and a songwriter. In our exclusive interview with Roberta Donnay last week she tells us some great stories about what it’s like inside the music world. The interview follows. Grab your opportunity to see Roberta Donnay and the Prohibition Mob Band now. To add to the fun, the first ten people who come to the show in 1920’s era costume will get a prize from the band. For ticket info on the Cottonwood show go to For Phoenix Rhythm Room ticket info go to

Interview with Roberta Donnay
By Mariah Fleming

Q. What's the weirdest thing that ever happened when you were on the road with Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks?
A. Everything is basically weird on the road. I guess the weirdest time was touring with Dan once when we got in around 4am after picking up the van at some east coast airport. We were all dead tired. I was in the van with Paul and Dan and there was another car with the rest of the guys. We were backing up out of the space and we heard this crack and felt this kind of bump. It was the weirdest feeling. And then we discovered what we ran over was Dan’s guitar. Now that was a weird tour!

Q. What made you decide to become one of the Lickettes?
A. Ha! That’s funny. I don’t think I ever really decided to become a Lickette. It just happened

Q. When did you first become familiar with Dan Hick’s music?
A. On the east coast in the 1970s Dan’s music was on the radio and every single time his songs came on and I heard that band I was totally in love. Love at first listen you might say. I didn’t get to hear the band live but the records were amazing! And I loved the sound of the girls. Just loved them.

Roberta Donnay

Q. OK, now on to your current project Roberta Donnay and the Prohibition Mob Band. What was the genesis of this project about Prohibition Era women singers and songwriters?
A. The idea of making this project is so exciting and close to my heart. These are my musical ancestors. I’m thrilled to pay tribute to them. It’s because of them that I became a musician. I loved researching the music of these women. The women who sang, and in some cases wrote these songs, are heroic. Their attitude and energy is strong, confident, courageous and vibrant. They're no pushovers for any man! I also learned that these women mentored each other. It was really something to learn how it all happened for these women.

Q. What are your favorite songs on the CD?
A. I have way too many favorite tunes on this record and every day it changes. Today, for instance, I was digging “(Tropical) Heatwave” It has an amazing horn arrangement. Then I heard “Oh Papa” again and I really should be sick of hearing it, but instead, it was like “That’s cool!’ But I guess my favorite song on “A Little Sugar” is “You Been A Good Ole Wagon.” What a song!

Q.Tell me about your new label, Motema. There's a wealth of amazing jazz musicians on Motema. It's seems like quite an honor that you were asked to sign with them. Obviously Motema was excited about your project.
A.The integrity of the label and excitement about each project is infectious. I’d have to say they are probably my dream label. Motema is beyond amazing. I’ve been a fan of the label and their artists for many years and seen many of their artists perform live.

Q. Tell us about the musicians you work with on this project.
A. I love and respect the musicians I work with so much. I just can’t say enough good things about all of them. They each put their hearts and souls into this record with me. I’m truly honored and feel like the luckiest girl in the universe.

Q. Who came up with the ideas for the costumes for the Prohibition Mob Band?
A. Costumes for the Prohibition Mob Band came from the guys in the band and they dressed themselves and very well, I think. And of course, many of my costumes came from studying the era and just going to vintage clothing stores and scrounging around like a maniac. Oh, and then there’s the hats… we could probably do a whole show on hats!!

Q. What's the most amusing and/or surprising thing a fan has ever asked you?
A. Well, it’s hard to know if this was a fan. After singing a song I wrote for the United Nations (“One World”) a fan came up and said: “Wow, it’s amazing even someone like YOU could write a song like that.” What am I supposed to do with that remark? Once it was 9am and I was in a produce department just picking up apples. This fan who had just seen me onstage at a festival day before said, “Aren’t you Roberta Donnay?” I said: “Yes.“ He said: “What happened to you?” Yikes. That was a little strange. I figured out it was just that I had no makeup on cause it was 9am! Good lesson though. Never go out without some kind of makeup I guess, or I might scare my fans.

Q. What's the most memorable or strangest thing that has happened to you onstage?
A.Mostly the surprising things usually happen to me offstage! But once I had a clothing malfunction and the top of my dress came apart and I had to hi-tail it out of there. And another time I was singing in a lounge gig and had a temporary tooth thing on one of my front teeth while I was waiting for a crown to be made. The tooth fell out while I was singing! Luckily, I had some chewing gum on me and I asked the band to play a long solo, I went to the restroom, chewed the gum, stuck the tooth back on it, and went back to stage to sing the rest of the song. The audience didn’t notice a thing.

Q. What's the most fun thing about being on the road?
A. For me, being on the road is the essence of creativity. It is a space that’s created by your mind and the freedom of being on the road (which is just an illusion, of course, cause we’re actually always on a tight schedule) but it’s the sense of that freedom. I like nothing better than a good long stretch of road in front of me and waking up and not really knowing what town I’m in. That’s a wonderful feeling. And hotels. I live for hotels! But, of course, whatever we go thru is all well worth it when it comes time to do the show. Then it’s made perfectly clear to me why I choose this life.

Q.You're a prolific songwriter. One of the songs on your new CD is an original. Can you tell me about what inspired you to write that tune? The title of the tune is also the title of a tune from the 20's.
A. “Empty Bed Blues” started with the title that I knew was a song title from the 1920’s. It wasn’t a coincidence. It just turned out that way. It actually started as a chord progression and rhythm idea and evolved into the lyrics, but it wasn’t really planned. But the best part was working with Joel Evans, one of the greatest jazz composers around! Love that guy!

Q. Over the years performing as a woman in music, have you seen changes in the business that have affected women artists?
A. I’ve seen many changes in the music industry as a woman. When I started out, I remember when I was at a songwriter’s event and I was the only girl. And there was a time when I was first playing guitar and I was playing an electric guitar and playing slide and I remember folks were screaming cause they hadn’t seen a girl play electric guitar before. We were in the sticks. But hadn’t they heard of Bonnie Raitt? She’s still my favorite of all the women guitarists and singers out there. And there are so many talented women out there who are rarely heard on the radio.

Q. Anything else?
A. Yeah. I remember a friend of mine, another female songwriter, talking to me at a songwriter event. She said she was in LA and called the local radio station to ask if they could play her record. They told her “We’re already playing a girl”. That’s what it was like back then. It wasn’t until the Lillith Fair and Sarah McLaughlin that women really came into their own in the recording industry. Most of the major labels at that time were signing men and they were finally forced to sign women because women started selling more records. Wow, that was big. And, of course, now it doesn’t really matter anymore because the major labels no longer run the music scene so we’re not beholden to “the decision makers” anymore.

Q. What's your dream gig?
A. What a great question. I think my dream gig happened last summer when we (Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks) were guest artists at Montreux Jazz Festival and on the same bill with some of the greatest stars I could ever imagine! I guess my dream gig is this same stage with the only difference being my band is up there and we’re opening for Herbie Hancock. That would be amazing. I’m a huge fan. Of course, singing with Dr. John, that would be amazing, too. I’m always happy and thrilled to sing with other singers! I love my life!

Q. What are some of your favorite recent backstage stories?
A. We recently performed at Sweetwater at an event about the film "Village Music: Last Of The Great Record Stores." We learned that Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks are actually in the movie. It was wonderful to realize after coming off the stage, that Sammy Hagar was right there, listening and cheering us on. I didn't know he was a fan of ours. That was cool cause I'm a huge fan of his. What a great performer. He always gives 1000 percent.

Backstage there was Elvin Bishop who was just sweet as can be. He gave me his card at our previous rehearsal and talked to me of his love for Japanese (his card is written in Japanese) it was very impressive. Its something he started studying later in life. And meeting Elvis Costello was a big event for me. He’s tremendous. But when I met him, I ended up telling him how great I think his wife (Diana Krall) is and that I love her. And he agreed with me. "I love her too!" he said. Then I explained that we (Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks) were able to perform at the Montreux Jazz Fest on the same show with Diana and what a thrill that was. Then I congratulated him on having such a beautiful family. He was very sweet and, of course, there were big smiles from him about the whole family thing.

Q. If you had it to do over, would you do anything different in your life?
A. No, I love my life. I am so lucky.